Matt Shaw was a provisional member of the famous Nebraska offensive line in 1994.
Not quite a receiver at tight end — he never caught a pass — and not quite one of the 300-pound-plus behemoths alongside Rob Zatechka, Zach Wiegert, Aaron Graham, Brenden Stai and Joel Wilks.
“In my mind, I was more of an offensive lineman,” said Shaw, a former walk-on from Lincoln Northeast who worked his way into the starting lineup for the 1994 national championship team.
“I know what I did as a blocker was important and I take pride in that,” he said. “And I ran routes, caught passes in practice, like the other receivers, but I’d usually try to join the linemen when it came to running wind sprints at the end of practice. Coach (Tom) Osborne asked me what I was doing, and I told him I didn’t want to miss a chance to work out more.”
In the 1995 Orange Bowl, Shaw took on Miami's NFL first-round draft picks, such as Warren Sapp, Kenny Holmes, Kenard Lang, Ray Lewis, and second-round pick Patrick Riley.
“When you face Donta Jones, with arms so long and hands so big, and Dwayne Harris, with all that athletic ability, and Ed Stewart, with all that ferocity, in practice every day, you get better or you get crunched,” Shaw said. “I was ready for those first-round guys from Miami. We all were ready.”
One of the former Huskers from the 1994 team that became anesthesiologists, Shaw was “a self-made football player,” Osborne said.
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Shaw sold pop at Memorial Stadium when he was in grade school. He dreamed of playing for Nebraska. He missed his senior season at Lincoln Northeast because of a back injury but returned for basketball. He gained national fame for his 75-foot shot at the end of the first quarter against Omaha South in the 1990 state basketball tournament.
“Mine was longer than Karen Moore’s shot, because I was in the corner and she was at the free-throw line,” Shaw joked. Moore sank a 73-footer in the 1982 girls state tournament.
Shaw also was noticed for his transformation from a thin 180-pounder in high school into a 6-foot-3, 240-pound tight end at NU.
He ate eight sandwiches a day and slugged down a quart of milk while working in the summer for Campbell’s Nursery during his college days. He improved his 40-yard dash time by almost a second and increased his vertical jump by 8 inches even though he added 60 pounds of weight between his freshman and senior years as a Husker.
“All of us on that team in 1994 did whatever it took to become national champions,” Shaw said. “We had talented guys, lots of them. And we had a lot of guys like me, willing to work to get on the field. Joel Wilks and I worked together a lot. The whole day was practice, lifting, running, studying and working out.
“I was in love with the football program and couldn’t think of anything better.
“We were all-in. We knew we missed the chance in 1993 and we weren’t going to get another chance since we were seniors in 1994.”